Friday, 17 August 2018

Voices in the corridors...

This week, Archivist Louise has been creating some new content for the archive...

Back in 2011, I took a vocational course run by the University of Dundee called Sound and Vision, about how to manage audio-visual media in the archive. Before I decided to train to be an archivist, I'd worked in the cinema sector for a number of years, and I went on the course being primarily interested in visual culture. However, a major part of the syllabus involved oral history - and soon learning about the methods of and reasons behind recording individuals' personal testimonies to keep for future generations became my favourite aspect of the course. We learnt the best methods of taking an oral history, how to produce a summary of it for potential users, and how to transcribe it to make it even more accessible (the last part is a labour of love and takes hours upon hours!)

Whereas we do hold some film archives here at LHSA (like this 1930s' film of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, for example), an increasing part of my job recently has involved adding to the archive with oral testimony from those who've been closely involved in healthcare in our region in the recent past. For example, I'm currently interviewing former members of (then) Lothian Health Board staff about the challenges of fighting the 1980s HIV epidemic in Edinburgh  - we have 13 interviews to date, and more in the pipeline for the coming months.

I've also been using my oral history training in a project to celebrate the 150th birthday of the Western General Hospital, of which I'm sure you'll hear more this year. Although the Western only acquired its current name when the local authority took over the running of the old poor law infirmaries from 1930, its history as a hospital goes back to 1868, when St Cuthbert's Poorhouse relocated to the site from its former home at the West End of Princes Street.

The Clock Tower building of the Western General Hospital, when it served as a military hospital during the First World War (GD8/8/1)
As part of the commemoration of this long history, LHSA has been asked to record memories of medical staff who have worked at the Western General Hospital, in the form of longer oral history interviews to be kept in the archive. Some of the interviews have taken place here at the Main Library, but last week I was lucky enough to visit the Western on a beautiful summer day to conduct interviews with former staff who had been part of the hospital's recent past. 

One of the many lions represented in the older buildings at the Western General Hospital, taken on my visit last week.
One of my interviewees, David Boyd, is a ninety-three-year-old retired Consultant. He has worked at the Western for several stints in his career - from a student rotation in 1948, to a Registrar post in the Endocrine and Metabolic Unit from 1959 and as a Consultant in General Medicine by the 1970s. Mr Boyd's interest in general medicine means that he has had a long and varied career, covering many different specialisms, geographical locations (even Glasgow!) and has worked with some of Edinburgh's most notable medical names.

For example, in the 1950s, Mr Boyd held a Registrar post in respiratory medicine, working with Professor (later Sir) John Crofton, who pioneered the 'Edinburgh method' of treatment of tuberculosis, pairing a combination of drugs with active monitoring, which at last offered an effective cure for the disease. He describes his time working with Crofton in this excerpt.

We'll be arranging to record more interview through the rest of this commemorative year, and we're hoping to enlist the help of some volunteers from our well-established programme to catalogue the interviews and transcribe some of the key sections. As our volunteers uncover the stories about the people who have made the Western General Hospital over the years, keep your eyes (and ears!) on the blog to learn more!

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